Saturday 25 February 2017

Paris-bound Wright on farewell lap for Leinster

Hugh Farrelly

IT'S all happening in the front-row at Leinster these days. A week after it was confirmed Mike Ross had committed his future to the province for two more years comes the news that Stan Wright is on his way to Stade Francais to reunite with former Leinster coach Michael Cheika.

Although the branch declined to comment yesterday, it is understood that the Cook Islander has agreed to join the Top 14 side on a three-year deal, ending a fruitful relationship with Leinster which began in 2006 and saw the 32-year-old become one of the side's most consistent performers and a crowd favourite.

With Ross secured, Jamie Hagan on his way over from Connacht and several promising Academy props coming through, Leinster are well catered for at tight-head and still have the under-rated Simon Shawe on their books, the AIL stalwart who has scrummaged well when called upon this season.

Wright missed much of this season with injury and, for those who may be curious, Clint Newland, the Kiwi brought in on a short-term contract to cover for Wright's absence, made his debut for the Eastern Province Kings last night, lining out against the Lions in the Vodacom Cup.

While Newland's departure did not leave much of a void, Wright's contribution will be fondly remembered in Leinster and he begins his farewell lap tomorrow at Rodney Parade when Joe Schmidt's charges take on the Dragons in their latest Magners League encounter.

He forms an all-overseas front-row with the South African pair of Richardt Strauss and Heinke van der Merwe in a powerful side that features Jonathan Sexton, Ireland's man of the match from last weekend, at out-half.

Luke Fitzgerald, another to feature heavily in the Six Nations, gets a chance to put the disappointment of missing out on the win over England behind him and is restored to his best position of left-wing -- the Dragons should expect a backlash from this gifted attacker tomorrow.

Shane Horgan is on the right wing in an experienced back three completed by Isa Nacewa at full-back, while Fergus McFadden is another player with a Six Nations point to prove in the centre next to Eoin O'Malley.

Leo Cullen returns from international cameo duty to partner Devin Toner in the second-row, while the back-row of Kevin McLaughlin, Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock are three more players with designs on Ireland's World Cup squad later this year.

Then there is Isaac Boss. The scrum-half was referenced repeatedly by Ireland coach Declan Kidney as being unlucky to miss out on Six Nations involvement and his good form this season also has him in the World Cup mix, with Eoin Reddan, superb against England, on a powerful bench next to Nathan Hines, Shawe and Jamie Heaslip.

Leinster have a solitary loss to show from their last 10 outings in all competitions and are firmly in the mix for a league play-off spot. They are seeking a strong showing ahead of next week's showdown with Munster and subsequent sell-out Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leicester at Lansdowne Road.

The Irish province go up against a Dragons side that have lost their last four matches in all competitions but one that has won its last four at home in Newport, while Leinster are yet to win in Wales this season.

The Welsh have some decent players, led by captain Luke Charteris in the second-row, naturalised No 8 Toby Faletau and full-back Martyn Thomas. However, in terms of overall quality, they are no match for the visitors and Darren Edwards, Dragons' acting head coach following the departure of Paul Turner, is expecting a difficult challenge.

"Leinster may still be missing some of their Irish internationals but that hasn't stopped them winning over the last few weeks," said Edwards. "They are a European squad with a great depth of talent so this weekend's game will be tough. All the boys want now is to get out onto the Rodney Parade field in front of our own fans and perform."

Verdict: Leinster

DRAGONS -- M Thomas; W Harries, A Hughes, T Riley, A Brew; J Tovey, W Evans; P Price, L Burns, D Way; L Charteris (capt), A Jones; J Bearman, L Evans, T Faletau. Reps: S Jones, H Gustafson, B Castle, A Brown, G Thomas, M Pewtner, M Jones, J Evans.

LEINSTER -- I Nacewa; S Horgan, E O'Malley, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, S Wright; L Cullen (capt), D Toner; K McLaughlin, D Ryan, R Ruddock. Reps: A Dundon, J McGrath, S Shawe, N Hines, J Heaslip, E Reddan, I Madigan, D Kearney.

REF -- A Macpherson (SRU).

Dragons v Leinster

Live, RTE2, tomorrow, 2.30

Irish Independent

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